What to Bring Home from Prague? And a Few Veg- Tips Needed
I'm finally going to Europe!! Help me make the most of what I hope is going to be the first of many.
My husband and I are going to Prague, with a 3 day stop in Zurich to visit friends. Since we'll have hosts, and since Zurich is so excruciatingly expensive, I don't anticipate buying too much or even eating at anything other than basic restaurants. So we're all set.
What I need to know is what to be on the lookout for in Prague! What do foodies bring home from the Czech Republic? Anything goes: are there specialty food stores? Particularly useful kitchen tools? Fun linens? Especially good spices?
i think we have a good handle on what to eat while there, thanks to the many previous posts here. Le Gustation, Lokal, Strahov Monastery's brewery, Kava Kava Kava for coffee, and about a dozen other contenders means we have plenty of choices for meals. I think my research will be complete if we can round out the following:
-cheap, simple breakfast. Pastries on the go, traditional breakfast plates. We're not big breakfast eaters, but will want something since the hotel has no offerings besides a full buffet.
-vegetarian? We hear rumors that the young people in Prague are picking up on the local/sustainable/green eating movement. We're travelling from San Francisco, so we're pretty used to that kind of eating. I'm mainly concerned that after a few days of drinking beer and eating sausages, we're going to want a good, light, vegetarian meal to keep us going.
Many thanks, can't wait to report back!
And as for what to bring home, there are not too many things you'd be able to legally bring into the US, you'd have to smuggle them :-)
Here are a few tips. Make sure you taste them before you take them home!
1) Lazenske oplatky - these are sort of thin dry wafers filled with nuts and sugar or cocoa and sugar. Sometimes you can get them in nice vintage looking round tins and these make a very nice gift.
2) Becherovka - sweetish herb liquor in a characteristic green bottle, not very strong in alcohol but quite strong in taste. There are also lemon and orange varieties, don't take those, get the original.
3) Fernet - bitter liquor also made with herbs, but not so sweet and dark brown to black color. I like that one better than Becherovka. I also like the lemon variety, but it's sweeter than the original. I like to drink it with my Beef Tartare.
4) Pork fat - what I haven't seen anywhere ouside of Eastern Europe are the chunks of white, almost translucent pig fat without any meat at all (slanina) or fried-out pieces of pork fat with bits of meat here and there (skvarky). Both of these are excellent on the wheat-rye bread so typical for the region (you maybe know it as the Polish bread), with some salt on top and some raw peppers and tomatoes on the side. It's impossible to take into the US, but do try and get some, if you pass a farmers market or an invitiing butchers shop. Careful, "anglicka slanina" or English bacon is regular bacon with meat and is nothing special. Try only the one without meat, thinly sliced on bread. Yum, my mouth is watering just as I'm writing.
5) non-food items are mainly glass (in medieval Europe, there were 2 schools of glassmaking, the Czech one and the Venetian one) - get only the best original brands, which are Moser and Rona (latter is Slovak). Bohemia Crystal is not so high quality but is much cheaper. Also traditional here is wickerwork - you can get nice wicker baskets at farmers markets. In tourist shops if you see them, they are most likely from China.
re your number 1: I brought back treats from Prague, Krakow and Vienna for my coworkers and those wafers were the stand-out hit, even over Mozartkugel. Those wafers are waaaaaay better than you think they're gonna be!
We also brought back a bottle of liqueur made by the Strahov monks which is interesting. We got some Czech vodka to take on the train to Krakow, but it didn't make it home (and obviously we stocked up on more vodka on the next leg anyway)
We brought back a bottle of Moravian wine but we were picking blindly and the bottle wasn't so awesome, more just fun to drink because of its connection to our trip. Not nearly as good as the Moravian wines we had at La Degustation.
Yeah, it's good stuff. My wife just featured it in a cocktail on her blog along with a big, lovely picture of the bottle:
We also picked up some herbal teas that the monks there make as well, some for us and some for gifts.
I wish I could have brought back some knedlicky loaves from the various supermarkets we browsed but I've made some from scratch in the meantime. We did bring back lots of fun soup packets and other dried goods.
Lovely! That's the stuff I've got as well. I will try your wife's cocktail sometime soon and let you know how it goes!
Oh yes and I got a bunch of dried soups as well.
Knorr has a ton of types we don't get here. I went into a corner store and bought one of each -- about 8 kinds -- and they're all really great and fun.
Vegetarian: Lehka Hlava (I like), similar style Maitrea (haven't been), Roxy and Country Life (don't like). There are also several basic Indian places and for a very cheap lunch you can go to a Hare Krishna restaurant - the food is uninspired but the desserts are good and it's fun.
Breakfast: if you want pastry, you'll have to decide between decent (note I'm not saying good or great) and cheap-er. Decent - best in Prague, is the chain Paul. Not cheap, but the only eatable choice for me. Cheaper choices include chain Paneria and Fornetti - they both look, smell and taste nice but I get acid reflux after - so not worth it :-) People here eat breakfast at home - bread, butter and cheese or ham, or don't eat breakfast at all. In restaurants and buffets you can get some other dishes like Frankfurters or tlacenka - meat in gellatine eaten with vinegar and raw onion. Scrambled or eggs are eaten as well, fried sunny side up are called volska oka (bulls eyes). For served breakfast, you can go to the institution - Cafe Louvre, or to Cafe Savoy on the other side of the river.
Coffee: everybody likes their differently and there are some good places, but very few of them. However, Starbucks and similar chains are plentiful and usually quite good option for coffee-to-go.
(saw your post on the SF board...)
I went to Prague (and St Petersburg (Russia) and Budapest) last spring, and can make a couple of recommendations:
La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise --
This was hands down the best meal of the entire trip.
Highly recommended, a fantastic tasting menu experience.
V Zatisi --
Also a very good meal.
Make certain to specify that you want to sit in the dining room situated on your left when you walk in. This is the one pictured in the photos on this site. The other room is not nearly as engaging or pretty.
La Finestra in Cucina
-- this one is highly rated but I found it very strange, would probably not return. However, I had some grilled beef that was delicious; they've got a ranch somewhere that grows meat only for them...
if you haven't looked at it already, Bourdain's visit to Prague [No Reservations] took him to some interesting spots. as you surmise, there will be a vegetarian subculture in the central Euro cities -- the travel guides like Lonely Planet and others formulated for not-quite-mainstream tourism often include eateries for vegetarians [Indian and some Turkish/eastern Mediterranean establishments will have dishes for vegetarians]. safe and happy travels.